Friday, October 31, 2008

A discussion on education

Received a link to a news article from a British paper The Guardian. It was sent to all my EFM group and generated some valid discussion. One of the members of the group is an ex-pat Brit who now holds American Citizenship.

The link to the article is here. Comments generated have been edited to insure confidentiality but only to that extent.

1st reply after viewing the clip:
This is drivel. The sorry state of public education in the US is directly tied to the rise in teachers unions and the degradation of personal responsibility and we all know exactly who supports the unions (Democrats) and we all know who supports government taking the place of individual responsibility (Democrats and Republicans alike).

Everybody in the education system bitches about the NCLB Act and I am sure there are lots of problems with it but its main purpose is to install some accountability in a system that has virtually none (with the exception of those school systems and/or individual schools that have parents that still believe in personal responsibility and will spend the time and effort to make sure their schools succeed). Add to this, that to climb the ladder in school system administration, higher and higher degrees in Education is the only way to move up. This is madness since it means teachers that could get Masters in one of the sciences or mathematics, etc. don’t because it doesn’t give them any hope of succeeding within the management structure.

I am not sure it’s possible to overhaul the US public school system but one thing is for sure, until it happens, this will simply get worse. By the way, if you listen to many of the Democratic leaders besides Obama, their grammar is completely suspect (try listening to a speech by John Murtha if you want to confirm this).

2nd reply:
We fix a lot of things in this country with focus and attention. See the US military, post Vietnam. Should we write off a corner stone of our country because of unions? That's drivel. I guess we can continue to build private schools for the rich, jails for the rest, and enrich other countries with our jobs

3rd reply:
I appreciate the opportunity to discuss real issues of social consciousness with people whom I know and trust and can know personal perspective. The writer's perspective is not known to me and therefore comments regarding his thesis may be a little off base as we have learned from our EFM studies. I do know, however, the time period and culture about which he writes and, therefore feel comfortable in commenting for the sake of discussion with my friends and possibly making some small impact in our community about this important issue. Education, whether of adults or children, shapes a community for generations and is a process that is both institutionalized and individualized. Although there is diversity in the education in the United States, most aspects of this discussion, and, indeed, the greatest result of "education" in the US is a product of our institutional learning or lack thereof. Although there of some aspects which I must agree with this author sadly, most of his thesis I believe misses the mark. What I can agree with him about is the trend in the past generation and possibly current generation in degradation of importance and respect for education and the expression of education in articulated speech. The pop culture does not give positive attributes to the sophisticated thinker, writer, or speaker and punishes those who appear so in the public community--not only politics but also our judicial system and entertainment industry. I cannot understand why that is so and would disagree with this writer in his postulated motives. Certainly, it is not a phenomenon peculiar to the South as he asserts. The further assertions that Christian fundamentalism and social engineering drive misinformation and ignorance in our schools may have some acknowledgment, but far greater is the fact that our public educational system reflects our bottom-heavy social structure rife with racial prejudice, violence, absence of discipline often coincident with absent parents, poverty, diffusion of accountability, and crippling effect of community unproductive attitudes sustained by entitlement programs. Certainly centralized rather than locally controlled education is NOT the answer since centralization further promotes service to the lowest common denominator and diffuses accountability further. Centralization is clumsier and less responsive and less aware than local control, but there must be empowerment over a broad reach of communities which is greater than the regionalized wealth and there must be an impassioned, educated, and accountable local mechanism. To that end, I heartily endorse you ….(person) and ….(other person) attending and speaking up for education at the next school board meeting. When you and other parents take control of local school boards and become involved in your community in other ways addressing the other social ills regarding equal employment opportunity, support for the core family in parental responsibilities and meeting basic human needs in nutrition, housing, clothing and spiritual direction; restoration of at the neighborhood level of a violence-free and property-respecting community; then indeed we will ALL be closer to the kingdom of God.

4th reply:
I would agree. Involvement is vital but the even greater over riding problem is the bottom heavy-ness as you describe it. In ….(city), for example, the problem is not the schools teachers curriculum or administration. It is the generational poverty we have. The value of education is not valued.

5th reply:
I agree with you that lots of things have been fixed over the years with focus and attention. However, focus and attention in itself is worth little without a clear, realistic plan and the determination to carry it out (see W & Donald Rumsfeld and their failed (no)plan for governing Iraq after the war) and most importantly the willingness to change the plan if it’s not working. Most of these requirements for success are lacking when it comes to public education. I think you and I should attend the next ….(local school) Board meeting. I bet we can decide pretty quickly if ….(school board) is on the way up or the way down by simply listening to what they say (up I hope – and yes I voted for the bond election so we can build new PUBLIC schools that hopefully will help cure this problem ).

6th reply:
I have spent the last 20 years of my life dealing with public education, and certainly I agree with it being in a sorry state. In looking for causes, I can agree that teacher’s unions must carry their share, even though IMHO they have failed their members in some very important aspects. Lack of personal responsibility, as ….(person) points out, is another factor though I am not sure whether this is a cause or a symptom of an underlying causes.
From my brushes with public education, I have concluded the following:
• • Since the 1960’s in this country we have created (unintentionally, I am sure) a permanent underclass marked by entitlement. This social engineering has had devastating effects, including the destruction of traditional family systems, respect for law, and completely distorted values and priorities.
• • By throwing money rather than good thinking at educational problems, we have created an environment in which education is something we do to students, rather than make available to them. In this environment, students (and their parents) rapidly arrive at the conclusion that if a student fails, it is the school’s fault rather than the student.
• • Well-intentioned sub-divisions within schools—i.e. vocational education—have allowed schools to dump students into academic curricula that assume that they cannot learn so rigorous academics are not offered. This has the effect of allowing teachers to conclude that all students are incapable of learning, and has created a massive negative stigma towards those students not in an academically rigorous curriculum.
• • Some of the side effects of social engineering have created living nightmares for teachers, which result in a huge teacher drop-out rate within the first two years of starting to teach. They are subjected to physical and verbal abuse, they are faced with latch-key students who were unable to sleep, let alone study, the night before because of their horrible home environment of drugs, violence and abuse. I assure you that none of this is exaggerated. While ….(local city) has plenty of this, our urban areas reek of it. Talk to teachers, as I do, and ask yourself if theirs is a life that you could stand. Many are highly dedicated but find themselves under stress on all sides. Faced with being asked to test students at every turn rather than teach, many wonderful teachers are getting out as soon as they can, and I don’t blame them. For support on this, talk to any of the teachers at ….(private) Day School who have been in the public schools. Many take a lesser salary to be at ….(private Day school) rather than face the current school conditions.
• • For many reasons, many teachers in classrooms are not qualified. For example, I hear estimates that at least 30% of math teachers nationwide do not have math or teaching qualifications. They teach under waiver. State after state is offering a bounty to qualified teachers if they will move to that state to teach. Some are advertising internationally. You cannot teach what you don’t know.
• • The ethnic mix of our student population has shifted radically over the last 40 years. Interestingly, almost all subgroups of the student cohort—i.e. black females, Hispanic males, etc.—have made progress on standardized tests, but the aggregate average has deteriorated. White and oriental students are scoring as well or better than they ever have; there are just fewer of them compared to minorities, who start way behind whites in performance.
• • Lack of education used not to matter a whole lot. In 1950, 85% of American jobs required basic arithmetic, a 5th-grade reading level, and the ability to drive a car. Now most of these low-level jobs have been exported to where they can be done cheaper. The 85% number had shrunk to less than 15% by 1990. The vast majority of today’s jobs requires higher math and communication skills, along with computer and improved social abilities. Schools simply have not kept up with the needs of employers. At the same time, many students and their parents (who do not involve themselves directly in education reform) continue to be in love with the fantasy of going to college, only to run into the wall when they “graduate” from high school, finding that they have neither the abilities to get into university nor the skills to get a good job.
• • The Guardian is a lousy newspaper, and has been ever since it quit being the Manchester Guardian. I found George Monbiot’s article to be further evidence of this. He is ignorant of our political system. He has no first hand knowledge of our educational system. He believes he is capable of passing judgment on people he has never met, who reside on a different continent, and who have the effrontery to hold different political views than he. Clearly he has no religious bone in his body and little knowledge of religious matters. What more need I say?
• • Like ….(person), I am not sure that the current educational system can be fixed. Perhaps if we eliminated education as a fundamental right and made it a privilege, we would see some change. Perhaps if we gave teachers and schools authority to rescind the privilege, that would help. Perhaps if we denied unqualified teachers access to classrooms—no matter what the consequences might be, that would help. Perhaps if we gave parents and students choice to leave bad schools for better ones, that would help. Perhaps if we had a national consensus of what should be taught and when, that would help students who move from one school to another from falling off the cliff. Perhaps if we forced the different levels of education to work together for the betterment of students, where all levels took responsibility for the success of students at every level, that would bring about change. Perhaps if sports was part of the curriculum for ALL students, and not just a chosen few, we could address obesity and other problems. Perhaps if we valued academics and technical skills as highly as we do sports, things would change. But then again, pigs might fly!


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